America's Love Affair With The Automobile Saves Lives

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery

As a young man, I developed a profound distain for a neighborhood Corvette owner. Every week, he rolled his beautiful brand new C4 onto his driveway to hand wash the car and service the magnificent engine. When the washing ritual was done, the Vettophile slowly paraded the glorious machine though the neighborhood, and then carefully returned her to his garage. A waste of adrenaline stoking pleasure, to be sure, but the Vette owner’s behavior highlights an interesting, oft-overlooked aspect of automotive safety.

In a college industrial psychology class, we studied a California business that suffered significant losses from forklift accidents. A consultant advised the business to assign operators to specific forklifts. More radically, he convinced management to let the drivers personalize their wheels. The operators named them, painted them and blinged-out the forklifts to their heart’s content. Forklift accidents sank to zero virtually overnight. The operators’ efforts to personalize "their" vehicles created an emotional investment in the welfare of the equipment, which motivated them to become safer drivers.

Does this mean that pistonheads smitten with their rides (like our garage queen Vette guy) are less likely to drive like hoons? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s fiendishly difficult (read: expensive) to quantify and separate the huge number of overlapping variables that can have a profound affect on driver behavior: age, income, geography, driver training, driving skill, personal psychology, vehicle type, level of “emotional attachment” and so on. In the absence of hard data, common sense applied to anecdotal information is about as good as it gets.

For example, would anyone in his or her right mind dangle their beloved baby out the balcony window of a five-star hotel? Of course not; only a disturbed pervert would do such a bizarre thing. Likewise, a caring pistonhead would not knowingly endanger a car he adores. Sure, “knowingly” is a gray area. Some of us like nothing more than roughhousing with our machines. But common sense still suggests that the Vette owner's careful husbandry can be extrapolated into a theorem: we’re less likely to endanger a cherished whip with out-of-control recklessness.

Consider the obverse: if we don't care about the vehicle we drive, it becomes easy to thrash it. A dealer once asked me to name the fastest car in the world. “A rental car,” he pronounced. Fair enough: rentals are the automotive equivalent of a one-night stand. Other than the embarrassment of returning a broken car to the agency and the cost of a deductible, what do we have to lose if we ruin a rental car? Nothing. No wonder pistonheads tend to drive them like they stole them.

Likewise, I’d like to see some stats on the accident rates involving short-term leases. Like so-called serial monogamy, a leased car doesn’t require a “real” commitment. Why slow up and take care? After all, you're only going to have the car for a year or two. No matter how badly you race the engine or stomp on the brakes, they’ll be good enough until you get a new ride.

Speaking from statistically irrelevant personal experience, a car doesn’t have to be expensive, luxurious, quick or sure-footed to engender its owner's love. Years ago, I parted with a 16-year-old Toyota Camry. I loved that rolling piece of crap. My blood, sweat and tears were in that machine. I bloodied my knuckles dozens of times changing oil, replacing brake shoes and pads, spark plugs and distributors. Once, I even wrestled out the rear seats so I could replace the rear struts.

More times than I can count, that Camry shuttled me halfway across the country between my parent’s home and college. I drove the car to my wedding and my honeymoon. I drove my wife in the Camry to the hospital for the births of both of our children. I know many of you think that Camrys are soulless appliances that are impossible to love. But people do; these steadfast vanilla vehicles participate in their life experiences. As the ad says, at some point, they become more than a car.

I can think of no public policy or social engineering program designed to improve highway safety by encouraging an emotional connection between man/woman and their machine. (Hmm… Perhaps we should establish a North American Man-Vehicle Love Association? No, no. Bad idea.) However, I do know that as I changed the motor oil in my Honda Accord last night-– she is getting full synthetic these days-– my fondness for the car has grown. Driving safety improves because every act of caretaking for the car makes me that much more invested in its welfare, as well as my own.

William C Montgomery
William C Montgomery

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  • Carzzi Carzzi on Nov 05, 2006

    Rental Neon? I learnt about the disadvantages of terminal understeer in one. Damage? Broken front suspension, bent wheel and a busted transmission after plowing into a kerb in a 40 mph left hander. Cost? Only the price of the loss-damage waiver of $11 for that day. Never tried that again in a nose-heavy front driver.

  • Jayjaya29 Jayjaya29 on Nov 07, 2006

    Great article, and I really do think its true. I think it has been statistically proven that if you drive a clean (ie. just washed) car, you are less likely to speed and break traffic laws. My car is always clean and I never break the rules, ain't I a good man.

  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.
  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon